Ending the year on a sweet note: ‘The Artful Baker’ documents a journey of self-discovery in desserts

 

 

Read this cookbook: “The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts from an Obsessive Home Baker” by Cenk Sonmezsoy (Abrams, $50)

 

By Wendell Brock

If you feel a touch of déjà vu on reading this, perhaps it’s  because I devoted a single sentence to this remarkable cookbook in my recent look at the best releases of fall and winter.

A single sentence!

On a book that numbers nearly 400 pages, is heavy enough to prop open your front door or break your kitchen scale, contains more than 100 gorgeous desserts, and is one hell of a Cinderella story.

Cenk Sonmezsoy, who lives in Istanbul but spent years studying and working in San Francisco, is possessed of a talent that will take your breath away.

He not only created the recipes, scrupulously testing them over and over again, but also photographed them with considerable style and panache, and even had the audacity to design the book.

His passion and pluck paid off: Before being picked up by its American publisher, “The Artful Baker” was the best-selling culinary title in Turkish history.

I should hasten to add that Sonmezsoy is a fine storyteller:  a writer whose self-deprecating humor also masks a touch of Orhan Pamuk’s trademark melancholy.

I believe this book, and the blog it sprang from, might not exist if Sonmezsoy had not left San Francisco, then ached for it so deeply and tenderly.

Pastry for him became a kind of panacea, a kind of healing.

Though I previously described “The Artful Baker” as a dazzling coffee-table tome, that seems now like an unintentional slight.

This is not a collection of pretty pictures to put on a shelf and forget. It’s a treasure to get lost in, as you will when you read Sonmezsoy’s essays on life, ice cream, his beautiful aunt and everything from fine macarons to commonplace granola.

As you discover his magical recipes for madeleines, snail-shaped croissants, the black-lace brownies he created for Dolce & Gabanna, pistachio ice cream, passion-fruit caramels, pomegranate jam, and his aunt’s elderflower and sour-cherry cordials, you will also detect the vigor and vim of a person who insists on going deeper and deeper in his calling.

It took Sonmezsoy 4½ years to deliver this book, whose aesthetics recall Kevin West’s “Saving the Season,” likewise photographed by its author with a divine eye.

Over time, Sonmeszoy taught himself to bake like an angel. But he didn’t stop there: He fastidiously documented his journey and sent it out to the world with a whisper, as if to say: “If I can do this, so can you.”

Paying homage to Nick Malgieri, Dori Greenspan, Alice Waters, Atlanta’s own Shirley Corriher and the author’s beloved “Golden Girls,” among other mentors, influences and inspirations, “The Artful Baker” is both a memoir and a wonder-cabinet of sweets.

It will be a joy to see what Sonmeszoy accomplishes next.

 

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).

 

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